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Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is an 1813 romantic novel by Jane Austen. It charts the emotional development of protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential. The comedy of the writing lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the British Regency period.
Mr. Bennet of the Longbourn estate has five daughters, but his property is entailed, meaning that none of the girls can inherit it. His wife has no fortune, so it is imperative that at least one of the girls marry well in order to support the others upon his death. Jane Austen's opening line, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife", is a sentence filled with irony and playfulness. The novel revolves around the importance of marrying for love, not simply for money, despite the social pressures to make a good (i.e., wealthy) match.
Pride and Prejudice has long fascinated readers, consistently appearing near the top of lists of "most-loved books" among both literary scholars and the general public. It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature, with over 20 million copies sold, and paved the way for many archetypes that abound in modern literature. For more than a century, amateur and professional dramatic adaptations, print continuations and sequels, and film and TV versions of Pride and Prejudice have reimagined the original novel's memorable characters and themes to reach mass audiences. The 2005 film, Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen is the most recent Hollywood adaptation of the book.
The novel opens with Mrs. Bennet trying to persuade Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley, a rich and eligible bachelor who has arrived in the neighbourhood. After some verbal sparring with Mr. Bennet baiting his wife, it transpires that this visit has already taken place at Netherfield, Mr. Bingley's rented house. The visit is followed by an invitation to a ball at the local assembly rooms that the whole neighbourhood will attend.
At the ball, Mr. Bingley is open and cheerful, popular with all the guests, and appears to be very attracted to the beautiful Miss Jane Bennet. His friend, Mr. Darcy, is reputed to be twice as wealthy; however, he is haughty and aloof. He declines to dance with Elizabeth, suggesting that she is not pretty enough to tempt him. She finds this amusing and jokes about the statement with her friends. Mr. Bingley's sister, Caroline, later invites Jane to visit.
When Jane visits Miss Bingley, she is caught in a rain shower on the way and comes down with a serious cold. Elizabeth visits the ill Jane at Netherfield. There Darcy begins to be attracted to Elizabeth, while Miss Bingley becomes jealous, since she has designs on Darcy herself.
Mr. Collins, a cousin of Mr. Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, visits the Bennet family. He is a pompous and obsequious clergyman, who expects each of the Bennet girls to wish to marry him due to his inheritance. He quickly decides to propose to Elizabeth when he is led to believe Jane is taken, but is refused.
Elizabeth and her family meet the dashing and charming George Wickham, who singles out Elizabeth and tells her a story of the hardship that Mr. Darcy has caused him by depriving him of a living (position as clergyman in a prosperous parish with good revenue that, once granted, is for life) promised to him by Mr. Darcy's late father. Elizabeth's dislike of Mr. Darcy is confirmed.
At a ball at Netherfield, Elizabeth reluctantly dances with Mr. Darcy. Other than Jane and Elizabeth, several members of the Bennet family show a distinct lack of decorum. Mrs. Bennet hints loudly that she fully expects Jane and Bingley to become engaged and the younger Bennet sisters otherwise expose the family to ridicule.
Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, who rejects him, to the fury of her mother and the relief of her father. Shortly thereafter, they receive news that the Bingleys are suddenly leaving for London, with no intention to return. After his humiliating rejection by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte Lucas, a sensible young woman and Elizabeth's friend. Charlotte is slightly older and is grateful to receive a proposal that will guarantee her a comfortable home. Elizabeth is aghast at such pragmatism in matters of love. Heartbroken, Jane goes to visit her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner at an unfashionable address in London. Miss Bingley clearly does not want to continue the friendship and Jane is upset though very composed.
In the spring, Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins in Kent. Elizabeth and her hosts are invited to Rosings Park, the imposing home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, patroness of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy's extremely wealthy aunt. She expects Mr. Darcy to marry her daughter. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are also visiting at Rosings Park. Colonel Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth how Mr. Darcy managed to save a friend from a bad match. Elizabeth realises the story must refer to Jane and is horrified that Darcy has interfered and caused her sister so much pain. Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Elizabeth and proposes to her. She rejects him angrily, stating that she could not love a man who has caused her sister such unhappiness and further accuses him of treating Mr. Wickham unjustly. The latter accusation seems to anger Mr. Darcy, and he accuses her family of lacking propriety and suggests he has been kinder to Bingley than himself. They part, barely speaking.
Later, Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth a letter, explaining that Mr. Wickham had refused the living he claimed he was deprived of, and was given money for it instead. Wickham proceeded to waste the money and, then impoverished, demanded the living again. After being refused, he tried to elope with Darcy's 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her great dowry. Darcy also writes that he believed Jane, because of her reserved behaviour, did not love Mr. Bingley. Darcy apologises for hurting Jane and Elizabeth begins to change her opinion of Mr. Darcy.
Some months later, Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visit Darcy's estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley. On a tour there, Elizabeth hears the housekeeper describe him as being kind and generous. When Mr. Darcy returns unexpectedly, he is overwhelmingly kind and later invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners to meet his sister and go fishing. Elizabeth is surprised and delighted by the kindness to herself and her aunt and uncle. She then suddenly receives news from Longbourn that her sister Lydia had eloped with Mr. Wickham. She tells Mr. Darcy immediately and departs in haste, believing she will never see him again, since Lydia's disgrace has ruined the family's good name.
After an agonising wait, Mr. Wickham is somehow persuaded to marry Lydia. With some degree of decency restored, Lydia visits her family and tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was at her wedding. Mrs. Gardiner informs Elizabeth that it is Mr. Darcy who has made the match at great expense, and hints that he may have "another motive" for doing so.
At this point, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy return to Netherfield. Shortly thereafter, Bingley proposes to Jane and is accepted. Lady Catherine, having heard rumours that Elizabeth intends to marry Darcy, visits Elizabeth and demands that she promise not to accept his proposal. Elizabeth makes no such promise and Lady Catherine leaves, outraged by Elizabeth's perceived insolence. Darcy, heartened by Elizabeth's refusal to promise that she wouldn't accept such a proposal, again proposes to Elizabeth and is accepted. He visits Longbourn to ask Mr. Bennet for his permission. Elizabeth wants her father to understand that she is not marrying for money, and it is only after she speaks about Mr. Darcy's true worth that he is happy about the wedding.
Many critics take the novel's title as a starting point when analysing the major themes of Pride and Prejudice; however, Robert Fox cautions against reading too much into the title because commercial factors may have played a role in its selection. "After the success of Sense and Sensibility, nothing would have seemed more natural than to bring out another novel of the same author using again the formula of antithesis and alliteration for the title. It should be pointed out that the qualities of the title are not exclusively assigned to one or the other of the protagonists; both Elizabeth and Darcy display pride and prejudice." Although the phrase "pride and prejudice" had been used over the preceding two centuries by Joseph Hall, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson, Austen probably took her title from a passage in Fanny Burney's Cecilia (1782), a popular novel she is known to have admired:
A major theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing in developing young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world, and a further theme common to Austen's work is ineffectual parents. In Pride and Prejudice, the failure of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as parents is blamed for Lydia's lack of moral judgment; Darcy, on the other hand, has been taught to be principled and scrupulously honourable, but he is also proud and overbearing. Kitty, rescued from Lydia's bad influence and spending more time with her older sisters after they marry, is said to improve greatly in their superior society. American novelist Anna Quindlen observed, in an introduction to an edition of Austen's novel in 1995:
The opening line of the novel famously announces: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." This sets marriage as a central subject—and really, a central problem—for the novel generally. Readers are poised to question whether or not these single men are, in fact, in want of a wife, or if such desires are dictated by the "neighbourhood" families and their daughters who require a "good fortune". Marriage is a complex social activity that takes political economy, and economy more generally, into account. In the case of Charlotte Lucas, for example, the seeming success of her marriage lies in the comfortable economy of their household, while the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet serves to illustrate bad marriages based on an initial attraction and surface over substance (economic and psychological). The Bennets' marriage is one such example that the youngest Bennet, Lydia, will come to re-enact with Wickham, and the results are far from felicitous. Though the central characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, begin the novel as hostile acquaintances and unlikely friends, they eventually work to understand each other and themselves so that they can marry each other on compatible terms personally, even if their "equal" social status remains fraught. When Elizabeth rejects Darcy's first proposal, the argument of only marrying when one is in love is introduced. Elizabeth only accepts Darcy's proposal when she is certain she loves him and her feelings are reciprocated. Austen's complex sketching of different marriages ultimately allows readers to question what forms of alliance are desirable, especially when it comes to privileging economic, sexual, companionate attraction.
Money plays a key role in the marriage market, not only for the young ladies seeking a well-off husband, but also for men who wish to marry a woman of means. Two examples are George Wickham, who tried to elope with Georgiana Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Marrying a woman of a rich family also ensured a linkage to a high family, as is visible in the desires of Bingley's sisters to have their brother married to Georgiana Darcy. Mrs. Bennet is frequently seen encouraging her daughters to marry a wealthy man of high social class. In chapter 1, when Mr. Bingley arrives, she declares "I am thinking of his marrying one of them."
Inheritance was by descent, but could be further restricted by entailment, which would restrict inheritance to male heirs only. In the case of the Bennet family, Mr. Collins was to inherit the family estate upon Mr. Bennet's death and his proposal to Elizabeth would have ensured her future security. Nevertheless, she refuses his offer. Inheritance laws benefited males because most women did not have independent legal rights until the second half of the 19th century. As a consequence, women's financial security at that time depended on men. For the upper-middle and aristocratic classes, marriage to a man with a reliable income was almost the only route to security for the woman and her future children. The irony of the novel's opening line, therefore, is that generally within this society it would be a woman who would be looking for a wealthy husband in order to have a prosperous life.
Austen might be known now for her "romances," but the marriages that take place in her novels engage with economics and class distinction. Pride and Prejudice is hardly the exception. When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, he cites their economic and social differences as an obstacle his excessive love has had to overcome, though he still anxiously harps on the problems it poses for him within his social circle. His aunt, Lady Catherine, later characterises these differences in particularly harsh terms when she conveys what Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy will become: "Will the shades of Pemberley be thus polluted?" Though Elizabeth responds to Lady Catherine's accusations that hers is a potentially contaminating economic and social position (Elizabeth even insists she and Darcy, as gentleman's daughter and gentleman, are "equals"), Lady Catherine refuses to accept Darcy's actual marriage to Elizabeth even as the novel closes.
Meanwhile, the Bingleys present a particular problem for navigating social class. Though Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst behave and speak of others as if they have always belonged in the upper echelons of society, Austen makes a point to explain that the Bingleys acquired their wealth by trade rather than through the gentry's and aristocracy's methods of inheritance and making money off their tenants as landlords. The fact that Bingley rents Netherfield Hall – it is, after all, "to let" – distinguishes him significantly from Darcy, whose estate belonged to his father's family, and who, through his mother, is the grandson and nephew of an Earl. Bingley, unlike Darcy, does not own his property, but has portable and growing wealth that makes him a good catch on the marriage market for poorer daughters of the gentility, like Jane Bennet, ambitious cits (merchant class), etc. Class plays a central role in the evolution of the characters, and Jane Austen's radical approach to class is seen as the plot unfolds.
In addition, there is an undercurrent of the old Anglo-Norman upper class hinted at in the story, as suggested by the names of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; Fitzwilliam, D'Arcy, de Bourgh (Burke), and even Bennet, are all traditional Norman surnames.
Through their interactions and their critiques of each other, Darcy and Elizabeth come to recognise their own faults and work to correct them. Elizabeth meditates on her own mistakes thoroughly in chapter 36:
Other characters rarely exhibit this depth of self-reflection – or at least are not given the space within the novel for this sort of development. Tanner notes that Mrs. Bennet in particular, "has a very limited view of the requirements of that performance; lacking any introspective tendencies she is incapable of appreciating the feelings of others and is only aware of material objects." Mrs. Bennet's behaviour reflects the society in which she lives, as she knows that her daughters will not succeed if they don't get married: "The business of her life was to get her daughters married: its solace was visiting and news." This proves that Mrs. Bennet is only aware of "material objects" and not of her own feelings and emotions.
Pride and Prejudice, like most of Austen's other works, employs the narrative technique of free indirect speech, which has been defined as "the free representation of a character's speech, by which one means, not words actually spoken by a character, but the words that typify the character's thoughts, or the way the character would think or speak, if she thought or spoke". Austen creates her characters with fully developed personalities and unique voices. Though Darcy and Elizabeth are very alike, they are also considerably different. By using narrative that adopts the tone and vocabulary of a particular character (in this case, Elizabeth), Austen invites the reader to follow events from Elizabeth's viewpoint, sharing her prejudices and misapprehensions. "The learning curve, while undergone by both protagonists, is disclosed to us solely through Elizabeth's point of view and her free indirect speech is essential ... for it is through it that we remain caught, if not stuck, within Elizabeth's misprisions." The few times the reader is allowed to gain further knowledge of another character's feelings, is through the letters exchanged in this novel. Darcy's first letter to Elizabeth is an example of this as through his letter, the reader and Elizabeth are both given knowledge of Wickham's true character. Austen is known to use irony throughout the novel especially from viewpoint of the character of Elizabeth Bennet. She conveys the "oppressive rules of femininity that actually dominate her life and work, and are covered by her beautifully carved trojan horse of ironic distance.". Beginning with a historical investigation of the development of a particular literary form and then transitioning into empirical verifications, it reveals Free Indirect Discourse as a tool that emerged over time as practical means for addressing the physical distinctness of minds. Seen in this way, Free Indirect Discourse is a distinctly literary response to an environmental concern, providing a scientific justification that does not reduce literature to a mechanical extension of biology, but takes its value to be its own original form.
Development of the novel
Austen began writing the novel after staying at Goodnestone Park in Kent with her brother Edward and his wife in 1796. It was originally titled First Impressions, and was written between October 1796 and August 1797. On 1 November 1797 Austen's father sent a letter to London bookseller Thomas Cadell to ask if he had any interest in seeing the manuscript, but the offer was declined by return post. The militia were mobilised after the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, and there was initially a lack of barracks for all the militia regiments, requiring the militia to set up huge camps in the countryside, which the novel refers to several times. The Brighton camp for which the militia regiment leaves in May after spending the winter in Meryton was opened in August 1793, and the barracks for all the regiments of the militia were completed by 1796, placing the events of the novel between 1793 and 1795.
Austen made significant revisions to the manuscript for First Impressions between 1811 and 1812. As nothing remains of the original manuscript, we are reduced to conjecture. From the large number of letters in the final novel, it is assumed that First Impressions was an epistolary novel. She later renamed the story Pride and Prejudice around about 1811/1812, which she sold the rights to publish the manuscript to Thomas Egerton for £110 (equivalent to £6,724 in 2016). In renaming the novel, Austen probably had in mind the "sufferings and oppositions" summarised in the final chapter of Fanny Burney's Cecilia, called "Pride and Prejudice", where the phrase appears three times in block capitals. It is possible that the novel's original title was altered to avoid confusion with other works. In the years between the completion of First Impressions and its revision into Pride and Prejudice, two other works had been published under that name: a novel by Margaret Holford and a comedy by Horace Smith.
Austen sold the copyright for the novel to Thomas Egerton from the Military Library, Whitehall in exchange for £110 (Austen had asked for £150). This proved a costly decision. Austen had published Sense and Sensibility on a commission basis, whereby she indemnified the publisher against any losses and received any profits, less costs and the publisher's commission. Unaware that Sense and Sensibility would sell out its edition, making her £140, she passed the copyright to Egerton for a one-off payment, meaning that all the risk (and all the profits) would be his. Jan Fergus has calculated that Egerton subsequently made around £450 from just the first two editions of the book.
Egerton published the first edition of Pride and Prejudice in three hardcover volumes on 27 January 1813. It was advertised in The Morning Chronicle, priced at 18s. Favourable reviews saw this edition sold out, with a second edition published in November that year. A third edition was published in 1817.
Foreign language translations first appeared in 1813 in French; subsequent translations were published in German, Danish, and Swedish. Pride and Prejudice was first published in the United States in August 1832 as Elizabeth Bennet or, Pride and Prejudice. The novel was also included in Richard Bentley's Standard Novel series in 1833. R W Chapman's scholarly edition of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1923, has become the standard edition on which many modern published versions of the novel are based.
The novel was originally published without Austen's name. It was instead written "By the Author of Sense and Sensibility". This carried responsibility for Austen, unlike when Sense and Sensibility was released as being written "By A Lady".
At first publication
The novel was well received, with three favourable reviews in the first months following publication. Anne Isabella Milbanke, later to be the wife of Lord Byron, called it "the fashionable novel". Noted critic and reviewer George Henry Lewes declared that he "would rather have written Pride and Prejudice, or Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley Novels".
Charlotte Brontë, however, in a letter to Lewes, wrote that Pride and Prejudice was a disappointment, "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but ... no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck".
Austen for her part thought the "playfulness and epigrammaticism" of Pride and Prejudice was excessive, complaining in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1813 that the novel lacked "shade" and should have had a chapter "of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story; an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott or the history of Bounaparté".
The American scholar Claudia Johnson defended the novel from the criticism that it has an unrealistic fairy-tale quality. One critic, Mary Poovey, wrote the "romantic conclusion" of Pride and Prejudice is an attempt to hedge the conflict between the "individualistic perspective inherent in the bourgeois value system and the authoritarian hierarchy retained from traditional, paternalistic society". Johnson wrote that Austen's view of a power structure capable of reformation was not an "escape" from conflict. Johnson wrote the "outrageous unconventionality" of Elizabeth Bennet was in Austen's own time very daring, especially given the strict censorship that was imposed in Britain by the Prime Minister, William Pitt, in the 1790s when Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.
Film, television and theatre
Pride and Prejudice has engendered numerous adaptations. Some of the notable film versions include that of 1940, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier (based in part on Helen Jerome's 1936 stage adaptation) and that of 2005, starring Keira Knightley (an Oscar-nominated performance) and Matthew Macfadyen. Notable television versions include two by the BBC: a 1980 version starring Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul and the popular 1995 version, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
A 1936 stage version was created by Helen Jerome played at the St James's Theatre in London, starring Celia Johnson and Hugh Williams. First Impressions was a 1959 Broadway musical version starring Polly Bergen, Farley Granger, and Hermione Gingold. In 1995, a musical concept album was written by Bernard J. Taylor, with Claire Moore in the role of Elizabeth Bennet and Peter Karrie in the role of Mr. Darcy. A new stage production, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The New Musical, was presented in concert on 21 October 2008 in Rochester, New York, with Colin Donnell as Darcy. The Swedish composer Daniel Nelson based his 2011 opera Stolthet och fördom on Pride and Prejudice.
The novel has inspired a number of other works that are not direct adaptations. Books inspired by Pride and Prejudice include the following:
In Gwyn Cready's comedic romance novel, Seducing Mr. Darcy, the heroine lands in Pride and Prejudice by way of magic massage, has a fling with Darcy and unknowingly changes the rest of the story.
Abigail Reynolds is the author of seven Regency-set variations on Pride and Prejudice. Her Pemberley Variations series includes Mr. Darcy's Obsession, To Conquer Mr. Darcy, What Would Mr. Darcy Do and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World. Her modern adaptation, The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice, is set on Cape Cod.
Helen Fielding's 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary is also based on Pride and Prejudice and spawned a feature film of the same name, released in 2001.
In March 2009, Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes Austen's work and mashes it up with zombie hordes, cannibalism, ninja and ultraviolent mayhem. In March 2010, Quirk Books published a prequel by Steve Hockensmith that deals with Elizabeth Bennet's early days as a zombie hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. The 2016 film of Grahame-Smith's adaptation was released starring Lily James, Sam Riley and Matt Smith.
In 2011, author Mitzi Szereto expanded on the novel in Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, a historical sex parody that parallels the original plot and writing style of Jane Austen.
Marvel has also published their take on this classic by releasing a short comic series of five issues that stays true to the original storyline. The first issue was published on 1 April 2009 and was written by Nancy Hajeski. It was published as a graphic novel in 2010 with artwork by Hugo Petrus.
Pamela Aidan is the author of a trilogy of books telling the story of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. The books are An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire and These Three Remain.
Detective novel author P. D. James has written a book titled Death Comes to Pemberley, which is a murder mystery set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage.
Sandra Lerner's sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Second Impressions, develops the story and imagined what might have happened to the original novel's characters. It is written in the style of Austen after extensive research into the period and language and published in 2011 under the pen name of Ava Farmer.
Jo Baker's bestselling 2013 novel Longbourn imagines the lives of the servants of Pride and Prejudice. A cinematic adaptation of Longbourn was due to start filming in late 2018, directed by Sharon Maguire, who also directed Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones's Baby, screenplay by Jessica Swale, produced by Random House Films and StudioCanal. The novel was also adapted for radio, appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, abridged by Sara Davies and read by Sophie Thompson. It was first broadcast in May 2014; and again on Radio 4 Extra in September 2018.
In the novel Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld sets the characters of Pride and Prejudice in modern-day Cincinnati, where the Bennet parents, erstwhile Cincinnati social climbers, have fallen on hard times. Elizabeth, a successful and independent New York journalist, and her single older sister Jane must intervene to salvage the family's financial situation and get their unemployed adult sisters to move out of the house and onward in life. In the process they encounter Chip Bingley, a young doctor and reluctant reality TV celebrity, and his medical school classmate, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a cynical neurosurgeon.
Pride and Prejudice has also inspired works of scientific writing. In 2010, scientists named a pheromone identified in male mouse urine darcin, after Mr. Darcy, because it strongly attracted females. In 2016, a scientific paper published in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Diseases speculated that Mrs. Bennet may have been a carrier of a rare genetic disease, explaining why the Bennets didn't have any sons, and why some of the Bennet sisters are so silly.